Ocean Action Hub

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Human society under urgent threat from loss of Earth's natural life - UN

6 May 2019 - From coral reefs flickering out beneath the oceans to rainforests desiccating into savannahs, nature is being destroyed at a rate that is tens to hundreds of times higher than

6 May 2019 - From coral reefs flickering out beneath the oceans to rainforests desiccating into savannahs, nature is being destroyed at a rate that is tens to hundreds of times higher than the average over the last 10m years, according to the Global Assessment Report by the United Nations.

The report says that values and goals need to change across governments so that local, national and international policymakers are aligned to tackle the underlying causes of planetary deterioration. This includes a shift in incentives, investments in green infrastructure, accounting for nature deterioration in international trade, addressing population growth and unequal levels of consumption, greater cooperation across sectors, new environmental laws and stronger enforcement.

Greater support for indigenous communities and other forest dwellers and small-holders is also essential. Many of the last hold-outs for nature are in areas managed by such groups, but even here the pressures are beginning to take a toll, as wildlife declines along with knowledge of how to manage it.

CONTINUE READING ONLINE HERE: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/may/06/human-society-under-urgent-threat-loss-earth-natural-life-un-report

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New York State bans single-use plastic bags

2 Apr 2019 - Home to almost 20 million residents, the state will ban most single-use plastic bags provided by supermarkets and other stores starting in March 2020. 

2 Apr 2019 - Drivers traveling into the busiest sections of Manhattan will be subject to a congestion charge starting in 2021 and single-use plastic bags will be banned across New York state in less than a year, under a $175.5bn state budget agreement announced on Sunday by the governor, Andrew Cuomo, and legislative leaders.

Most single-use plastic bags provided by supermarkets and other stores will be banned statewide starting 1 March 2020. Counties will have the option of charging 5 cents for paper bags, with 2 cents going to local governments and 3 cents to the state environmental protection fund.

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Plastics 'leading to reproductive problems for wildlife'

27 Feb 2019 - Plastics are an increasing cause of concern due to potential sources of chemicals that disrupt hormones and affect the growth and reproductive success of a wide variety of wi

27 Feb 2019 - Plastics are an increasing cause of concern due to potential sources of chemicals that disrupt hormones and affect the growth and reproductive success of a wide variety of wildlife, according to a new report.

Wildlife in the oceans and on land are subject to cocktails of pollutants known as endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), but little is still known about how these common substances interact in the environment despite years of research. The increasing problem of plastic waste breaking down in fragile ecosystems is now one of the key areas of research for scientists.

Killer whales with high levels of pollutants known as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which were used in many plastics before being banned globally in 2004, have shown reproductive problems. A pod off the west coast of Scotland known to have high levels of PCBs has failed to produce a single calf in 25 years.

CONTINUE READING ONLINE HERE: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/feb/27/plastics-leading-to-reproductive-problems-for-wildlife

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Liberia's success in struggle to end illegal fishing

28 Jan 2019 - For years, Liberia fought a losing battle against the foreign vessels plundering its coastline. Then a bold new approach sent fines – and arrests – soaring.

28 Jan 2019 - For years, Liberia fought a losing battle against the foreign vessels plundering its coastline. Then a bold new approach sent fines – and arrests – soaring.

Petty officer George Kromah, of the Liberian coastguard, slings his AK47 across his back before disappearing over the side of the Sam Simon, joining his colleagues in the rib below. The boat roars off, quickly followed by a second, speeding through the choppy Atlantic swell in pursuit of a suspected illegal fishing vessel that has crossed into Liberia’s territorial waters from Sierra Leone.

Kromah and his fellow officers are on the frontline of the little nation’s ill-matched crackdown on fisheries crime – which Interpol has linked with the trafficking of drugs and people, as well as fraud and tax evasion.

The largely ungoverned waters of west Africa are plagued on a daily basis by big industrial vessels from wealthier nations that plunder hundreds of tonnes of fish, at the expense of local fisherman. One 2017 study estimates the cost of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU) to just six west African countries at $2.3bn (£1.8bn) a year. It is a cost that Liberia, one of the world’s poorest nations – and heavily dependent on foreign aid after decades of civil war – cannot afford.

But neither has it funds to police its 370km of coastline.

Two years ago, the defence ministry of this tiny country of 4.7 million people took an unusual step to tackle multi-million dollar crimes: partnering with Sea Shepherd, self-styled “eco-vigilantes”, known for controversial tactics against Japanese whalers in the Southern Ocean. The Guardian travelled with the coastguard aboard the Sam Simon, a 56-metre patrol vessel provided to the military, along with its largely volunteer crew.

The pursuit of the suspected illegal tuna boat, the Oriental Kim, ended undramatically with a warning rather than an arrest. It was found to be broadly operating legally, with some discrepancies. But according to Sea Shepherd, news of policing at sea has “spread like wildfire” among vessel owners, creating a deterrent effect.

CONTINUE READING ONLINE HERE: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jan/28/liberia-eco-vigilantes-score-arresting-success-in-struggle-to-end-illegal-fishing

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‘Stop treating seas as a sewer’

18 Jan 2019 - Paris agreement for the sea recommended as rates of plastic pollution to skyrocket

18 Jan 2019 - Paris agreement for the sea recommended as rates of plastic pollution to skyrocket

A new global agreement to protect the seas should be a priority for the government to stop our seas becoming a “sewer”, according to a cross-party group of MPs.

Plastic pollution is set to treble in the next decade, the environmental audit committee warned, while overfishing is denuding vital marine habitats of fish, and climate change is causing harmful warming of the oceans as well as deoxygenation and acidification.

The effects of plastic pollution are particularly poorly understood, the committee found in its report, published on Thursday. It found “a lack of data on the serious long-term harm and health implications of plastic particles entering the food chain” and accused the government of treating the oceans as “out of sight, out of mind”.

One way of tackling the problem would be through a “Paris agreement for the sea”, the MPs recommended. Governments are still working on a possible new ocean protection treaty, under the UN. The MPs also called for the government to bring forward the target date of phasing out avoidable plastic waste from 2042, and urged greater action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

CONTINUE READING ONLINE HERE: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jan/17/stop-treating-seas-as-a-sewer-mps-urge-in-bid-for-protection-treaty

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How whale sharks saved a Philippine fishing town and its sea life

2 Jan 2019 - Diving tours run by former fishermen have lifted the villagers out of poverty and given new protection to overfished marine life.

2 Jan 2019 - Diving tours run by former fishermen have lifted the villagers out of poverty and given new protection to overfished marine life.

Fishermen-turned-entrepreneurs who have been financing the protection of endangered whale sharks in the Philippines have hit on a successful scheme to help lift their coastal community out of poverty, new research has found.

A group of 58 fishermen from the town of Oslob who were struggling to feed their families turned to the world’s largest fish species to set up a community based dive company in 2011. It has since become an international hotspot for tourists to swim with the sharks, attracting more than 750,00 visitors in the first five years and amounting to $18.4m (£14.7m) in ticket sales over the same period.

The attraction, whereby former fishermen take tourists out on boats to observe, swim and dive with the whale sharks, has not been without controversy. But now scientists claim the unique business model has improved food security, healthcare and education in the community while also safeguarding the species, that is protected by law but illegally poached and finned alive in other parts of the country.

An analysis of how Oslob Whale Sharks (OWS), run by 177 former fishermen in partnership with local government, has impacted on livelihoods and the environment has been published in the journal Ocean & Coastal Management.

“Oslob, in the province of Cebu, is one of the poorest fishing sites in the Philippines but also anywhere in the world,” said Judi Lowe, a marine scientist at the Southern Cross University in Australia who led the research with Johann Tejada at the Bureau of Fishery and Aquatic Resources.

Lowe said, before the creation of OWS many of the fishermen could not afford to put food on their table or educate their children, while some had lost their palm frond homes in typhoons.

Former fishermen Jesson Jumuad who leads a team at OWS said: “As fishermen we were earning as little as $1.40 a day but nothing on days when the current was strong.

“Sometimes in a day I didn’t have any fish to be sold but now I can give my family good food three times a day. I have built a brick house, bought a motor bike and can afford to send my daughter to school.”

Historically, food security in the area has been an issue due to years of overfishing and the destruction of coral reefs. Between the 1950s and 1980s Oslob was home to a destructive form of fishing called muro ami, whereby a fleet of boats run by local elites used child slaves to bring in catches, explained Lowe.

CONTINUE READING ONLINE HERE: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/dec/10/how-whale-sharks-saved-a-filippino-fishing-town-and-its-sea-life

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Vital ecosystems in tidal flats lost to development and rising sea levels

31 Dec 2018 - First global coastline survey shows 16% of tidal flats lost between 1984 and 2016. 

Coastal development and sea level rise are causing the decline of tidal flats along the world’s coastlines, according to research that has mapped the ecosystems for the first time.

Scientists from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) and the University of Queensland used machine-learning to analyse more than 700,000 satellite images to map the extent of and change in tidal flats around the globe.

The study, published in Nature, found tidal flat ecosystems in some countries declined by as much as 16% in the years from 1984 to 2016.

Tidal flats are mud flats, sand flats or wide rocky reef platforms that are important coastal ecosystems. They act as buffers to storms and sea level rise and provide habitat for many species, including migratory birds and fish nurseries.

Almost 50% of the global extent of tidal flats is concentrated in just eight countries: Indonesia, China, Australia, the US, Canada, India, Brazil and Myanmar

Nicholas Murray, the study’s lead author and a senior research fellow at the centre for ecosystem science at the University of New South Wales, said because tidal flats were often at least partially covered by water they had been difficult to monitor in the past.

“This is a big ecosystem,” he said. “It’s all over the planet and highly susceptible to threats but we haven’t known where they are, which has limited the ability to monitor them.”

The research team worked with Google and used its computing resources to analyse every satellite image ever collected of the world’s coastlines.

CONTINUE READING ONLINE HERE: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/dec/29/vital-ecosystems-in-tidal-flats-lost-to-development-and-rising-sea-levels

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Ocean-related stories top 2018 science news
28 Dec 2018 - In 2018 the United Nations began negotiations for a new treaty to protect high seas wildlife, paving the way for marine protected areas.

28 Dec 2018 - The Guardian's guest scientists pick the breakthroughs and discoveries that defined their year, from insights into human evolution to our first trip aboard an asteroid. 

The world took action to combat plastic at last

Among the tsunami of bad news about plastic waste this year, there was a small piece of good news. This was an agreement in April by those responsible for more than 80% of the plastic packaging in the UK to make all plastic packing 100% recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2025. This pledge, called the UK Plastics Pact, is significant because it has emerged not from government but from a consortium of companies and organisations including supermarkets, coffee chains, brands, manufacturers, waste disposal companies and local authorities. Thee organisationsy have clubbed together to solve this problem largely because they are under massive public pressure. They propose to create a circular economy of plastics, a seismic shift in the way companies engineer and use them. It is a big win for the environment of the UK, but it will also have a global impact, because many of the companies involved – such as Coca-Cola, Unilever and Procter & Gamble – are multinational corporations that sell products all over the world. Once the UK creates a non-polluting circular economy of plastic packaging, the likelihood of it being rolled out by these companies in the rest of the world is high. There is an enormous amount of work to do, but I hope when our children look back at the environmental catastrophe of the 20th century, they will see 2018 as the year plastic pollution started its decline.
Mark Miodownikprofessor of materials and society at University College London

Remote high seas found new defenders

Most people don’t think much about the high seas. Far beyond the horizon, they begin where national control ends, 200 nautical miles from the coast, and cover 61% of the ocean and 43% of the Earth’s surface. Few laws restrain fishing here; countries can opt out of those that exist, and much activity is in any case hidden by remoteness. But 2018 may signal the beginning of the end of freedom to plunder fish and slaughter wildlife caught alongside them. This year Global Fishing Watch lifted the veil on the high seas, exposing fishing vessels and companies to scrutiny for the first time. Their tool tracks ship movements based on satellite transmissions from vessels, and uses machine learning to determine what a vessel is doing from its behaviour. We learned this year that high seas fishing contributes only 4.2% of wild fish catches, that 64% of the spoils go to just five rich countries, and that much of this fishing would not be profitable without public subsidies. In September, the UN began negotiations for a new treaty to protect high seas wildlife, paving the way for marine protected areas that Global Fishing Watch can help to police.
Callum Robertsprofessor of marine conservation at the University of York

CONTINUE READING ONLINE HERE: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/dec/23/the-science-stories-that-shook-2018-genetics-evolution-climate-change-artificial-intelligence

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Surge in marine refuges brings world close to protected areas goal

20 Nov 2018 - Reserves cover more than five times area of US, says IUCN / UN Environment report, but enforcement is often poor. More than 7% of the ocean now has protected status.

20 Nov 2018 - Reserves cover more than five times area of US, says IUCN / UN Environment report, but enforcement is often poor. More than 7% of the ocean now has protected status, and almost all the growth has been in marine regions.

A record surge in the creation of marine protected areas has taken the international community close to its goal of creating nature refuges on 17% of the world’s land and 10% of seas by 2020, according to a new UN report.

Protected regions now cover more than five times the territory of the US, but the authors said this good news was often undermined by poor enforcement. Some reserves are little more than “paper parks” with little value to nature conservation. At least one has been turned into an industrial zone.

More than 27m square kilometres of seas (7% of the total) and 20m sq km of land (15% of the total) now have protected status, according to the Protected Planet report, which was released on Sunday at the UN biodiversity conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.

Almost all of the growth has been in marine regions, most notably with the creation last year of the world’s biggest protected area: the 2m sq km Ross Sea reserve, one-fifth of which is in the Antarctic. The no-fishing zone will be managed by New Zealand and the US.

CONTINUE READING ONLINE HERE: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/nov/19/marine-reserves-size-protected-wildlife-five-times-bigger-usa

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Carnival Australia to provide '$2.1m undertaking' after Great Barrier Reef spill

8 Nov 2018 - The Guardian Australia - Pacific Explorer cruise ship spilled liquid food waste into reef’s protected waters

8 Nov 2018 - The Guardian Australia - Pacific Explorer cruise ship spilled liquid food waste into reef’s protected waters

Carnival Australia has been compelled to provide a “$2.1m undertaking” after spilling 28,000 litres of liquid food waste into the Great Barrier Reef’s protected waters.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority detained the Pacific Explorer cruise ship on its way back to Sydney in early September until it paid the amount, which was equal to the maximum fine available, an AMSA spokesman said on Thursday.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park was notified of the accident one week after the cruise company self-reported it.

An investigation is currently underway.

CONTINUE READING ONLINE HERE: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/nov/08/great-barrier-reef-carnival-australia-fined-21m-after-dumping-28000-litres-of-waste

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